Physicists working with the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator in Europe say they've created bits of the kind of matter that existed in the universe just milliseconds after the Big Bang.
In temperatures and pressures so extreme that regular matter could not exist, there were particles of a kind of matter known as quark-gluon plasma in the early fractions of time immediately after the start of the universe, the scientists explain.
The plasma has been described as a "perfect liquid" that existed for a brief time before cooling and condensing into the building blocks of normal matter.
Now, researchers from the University of Kansas collaborating with an international team at the LHC report they've produced a quark-gluon plasma.
It was created during high-energy collisions of protons with lead nuclei in the collider's Compact Muon Solenoid detector.
"Before the CMS experimental results, it had been thought the medium created in a proton-on-lead collisions would be too small to create a quark-gluon plasma," says Quan Wang, a university postdoctoral researcher working at CERN, the European nuclear research organization.
Creating quark-gluon plasma, an extremely dense and hot state of matter in which quarks and gluons are unbound – not contained within individual nucleons – could lead to new understanding of high-energy physics, the researchers say.
"It's believed to correspond to the state of the universe shortly after the Big Bang," Wang said.
As opposed to a gaseous state inside of which little interaction between constituent particles would be expected, within a quark-gluon plasma such interactions would be strong, he explains.
Experimental creation of the plasma will help physicists better understand the conditions existing in the young universe in the first instants following the Big Bang, Wang says.
Although a quark-gluon plasma was probably all that existed in the microsecond following that event, much about its properties is still not fully understood, he says.
While subatomic particles such as the recently discovered Higgs boson have been at the center of much of high-energy particle physics, researchers into quark-gluon plasma seek to understand the behavior of large volumes of such particles, the researchers explain.
"Being able to form a quark-gluon plasma in proton-lead collisions helps us to better-define the conditions needed for its existence," Wang says.
The Kansas group at CERN, along with researchers from Vanderbilt and Rice universities, had a leading role in the analysis published in the journal APS Physics.